Speak whatever you want in Canada

Multiculturalism in Canada is often explained as being a mosaic, with every person retaining their identity and coming together to form a colourful and diverse nation. But what is to be done when pieces of our mosaic start turning on each other?

Last week a video surfaced of a woman’s racist tirade in a Shoppers Drug Mart in Burnaby, BC.

The woman, who is visibly agitated, tells employees that “speaking in Chinese” in front of her is “rude as fuck,” and demands that they “speak English in Canada.”

Describing someone speaking another language as rude, then following that by telling them to “shut up” and demanding that they speak in English, is racist.

It fuels an “us versus them” mentality which cannot be tolerated. People living in Canada, no matter if they were born here, have a citizenship, or are newly arrived immigrants, have the right to speak whatever language they want as private citizens.

What takes me aback the most in this video is the brazenness of the perpetrator. She does not seem fazed by the fact that she is being filmed, or that a child is standing right next to her. She continues her verbal assault shamelessly.

She spews hatred and racism without even flinching. She speaks to the employees in a tone that would be inappropriate to inflict on an animal. She doesn’t seem to think of her opinion as wrong or controversial. If you’re in Canada, no matter where you might be from or what your mother tongue may be, you speak in English.

There are more than 200 different languages spoken in Canada, according to data from the 2011 Canadian census. Hence, there is a certain level of absurdity in assuming that when you leave your house you will only hear English or French, and a level of insanity if you decide to go on a racist rant about it.

Furthermore, considering the fact that English and French are colonial languages and are not even native to Canada, why should we see monolingualism as favourable?

Multiple scientific studies have concluded that knowing more than one language is good for our brains. A 2013 study from Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences showed that bilingualism delays a person’s age at the onset of dementia. Bilingual participants in the study developed dementia 4.5 years later than their monolingual counterparts.

Bilingualism also has positive effects on children. A study done by the University of Oregon showed that compared to monolingual children, bilingual children have stronger inhibitory control. This allows them to pay attention, take turns, and follow instructions better than their monolingual peers.

Besides improving cognitive function, being able to speak more than one language can make you more employable, help you when traveling abroad, and enables you to hold on to your culture.

Clearly, cases of people demanding others to only speak one language has little to do with anyone’s wellbeing, and more to do with hate and intolerance.

At the end of the day, if hearing someone speak a different language deeply disturbs you, maybe you should just stay home.

Photo: Laurence BD.


A plea to keep the old books

Why minimalism shouldn’t challenge the notion of keeping your bookshelf full

Minimalism is the latest trend sweeping us by storm. There are documentaries, podcasts and books all about the art of decluttering. For the most part, I wholeheartedly agree with the minimalist agenda. We live in a society in which our worth is based on what we own. We are constantly being pushed to consume and buy things that we absolutely do not need. So, any trend that challenges this perniciousness is one that I can get behind.

However, one thing that I will never minimize is the number of books I own. If I haven’t worn an article of clothing in the past six months, I will happily get rid of it. However, I won’t do the same with a book, even if it’s been six years since I last touched it. I am not deterred by the space they take up or the dust they collect. I see this as a small price to pay for all that they provide.

Recently, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant and author, released her Netflix special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and it took the internet by storm. Kondo inspired many to get rid of of anything that doesn’t spark joy. However, she received criticism after a rumour circulated that she believed in keeping only 30 books. Kondo has since dismissed these rumours, but this nevertheless got me thinking about the benefits of holding onto old books.

The books that line my bookshelf are more than a bunch of ink-blotted pages held together by glue. They are sources of boundless knowledge and adventure. They don’t go out of style or lose their value. Hence, I do not treat them as single use objects. I keep books that I loved, hated, and never finished and I encourage you to do the same.

Aside from that, I have other, more concrete reasons, as to why I keep all my books. Firstly, I firmly believe that you cannot claim to love a book until you have read it multiple times. It’s impossible to grasp every element of a book after just one reading. However, once you’ve revisited it a few times, you begin to understand the complexity and the multitude of nuances every literary work offers.

I also keep the books that I didn’t like or never finished. Not to sound like an insufferable hippy, but I believe that sometimes the reason for not liking a book is less a content problem and more so a problem of time. There are certain books that will appeal to you less depending on where you are in your life. So, the reason you “hated” a book could be because you read it at the wrong time.

This has proven to be true multiple times with books that I have revisited. When I first tried to read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, I had a hard time grappling with the heart-breaking stories that were being told and was never able to finish it. At the time, I was too immature to understand the plight of the women in this book. However, when I returned to it a few years later, I was able to appreciate all it had to offer.

Thus, I will hold on to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, no matter how much I claim to despise it, so that I can reread it at a later point in my life. Maybe by then, Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique might actually stir joy inside of me instead of irrational rage.

I know that there is the possibility that I may never return to the books I so vehemently hold on to. It is possible that I will never do anything more than dust or rearrange them, but this doesn’t change my stance. I’d rather have the opportunities that keeping old books provides than the peace of mind minimalism claims to produce.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin


News flash: Your ignorance is your own choice

When I think back to what I learned about Indigenous Peoples in Canada in elementary and high school, I honestly can’t remember much. I can remember being taught about sedentary and nomadic tribes and that the first inhabitants of North America arrived around 10,000 years ago by crossing the Bering Strait, a theory which has been heavily disproven. However, once we reached the 15th century, we quickly set aside and forgot about Indigenous history and focused solely on the Europeans, who had “discovered” this “barren” land.

To this day, I can still tell you the historical significance of places like Montreal’s Hôtel-Dieu and the Plains of Abraham. I can tell you all about Jean Talon and Samuel de Champlain and the importance of the seigneurial system in Quebec. However, my knowledge about Indigenous Peoples in Canada is nowhere near as extensive. I am a settler who, up until my post-secondary education, had only been exposed to the opinions of other settlers. So, when I was taught about events like the Oka Crisis and Residential schools, they were explained as incidences that happened in the past. We never spoke about the influences that these events still have on today’s Indigenous Peoples.

As I would come to find out in my later years, what I had been taught about the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada was only the first page of a multivolume anthology of injustices and social suffering. Hence, it should come as no surprise that I describe my first introductory course, Native Peoples of North America, as a humbling experience. I quickly realized that what I had been taught about Indigenous Peoples throughout my academic career, and by the media that I consumed, was shrouded in prejudice and delusions.

Through class discussions, I was able to find solace in the fact that I was not the only one who felt as though they were unacquainted with the often egregious acts Indigenous Peoples were, and continue to be, subjected to. Many expressed having high school experiences similar to my own, regarding the information, or lack thereof, that they received. Feelings of bitterness and ignorance were shared by many of us in that class.

Furthermore, international students in the class admitted that they never realized that Canada had such a dark history. They were stunned, as I was, by the country’s ability to hide its racism from the rest of the world. This skill has granted us the international reputation of being one of the friendliest nations on Earth. However, our past and current mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples and their land certainly doesn’t quality for praise.

There is clearly a need for us, as settlers living in Canada, to acknowledge this country’s colonial legacy, while also recognizing the resilience and resistance of Indigenous Peoples. However, how can this be achieved if some are still ignorant to what is really going on?

In order to be supportive allies, we need to be well-informed and open-minded to both the issues at hand and their historicity. Our progress lies in the ways we are educated about Canada’s history. Present and future Canadians must be taught the truth—from elementary to university, and beyond.

What is most rewarding about taking these courses is the opportunity they grant for open and honest discussions about taboo topics. Personally, I found that being able to hear from guest speakers and individuals from different Indigenous communities was invaluable. These interactions enabled myself, as well as my classmates, to challenge our implicit biases and recognize that we all share a common humanity.

Having access to courses and resources about Indigenous issues, culture, and history is fundamental if we are serious about ensuring that all members of the future Canadian society are treated fairly. The good news is that we go to a school in which these things are available to us. Concordia offers courses with Indigenous content in programs such as anthropology and history. Better yet, Concordia’s First People Studies department offers courses and events which cover a wide array of topics from political and social issues, to those of health and storytelling. Willfully choosing to stay ignorant when given the opportunity to be informed is nonsensical. I encourage you all to consider taking a course with Indigenous content during your academic career.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


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